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g4                                                                                                             B. POLEVOI
Alexei shook his head. He felt so good and restful here.
Neither the experiences he had gone through nor the
pain in his feet seemed terrible to him now.
"What's he saying?" inquired the Chief of Staff in his
hoarse voice.
uHe wants to remain here with us," answered the
Commander, smiling.
And at that moment his smile was not enigmatic as it
usually was, but friendly and sad.
'Tool! Romantics! An example for Pionerskaya
Pravda," said the Chief of Staff. "They do him the
honour of sending a plane from Moscow for him by order
of the Army Commander himself, but he-----What do
you think of him? ..."
Meresyev wanted to answer and say that he was not
romantic, that he was simply convinced that here, in a
tent at the medical base, where he had once spent a
few days with a sprained ankle after a crash landing in
a damaged plane, that here, in familiar surroundings, he
would recover much more quickly than among the
unknown conveniences of a Moscow clinic. He had already
thought of the words with which to give the Chief of
Staff a stinging reply, but before he could utter them the
siren emitted its mournful wail.
Every face at once assumed a grave and business-like
air. The major issued several curt orders and the men
began to bustle like ants; some ran to the planes standing
under cover on the edge of the woods, some to the com-
mand post, distinguished by a small mound on the edge of
the field, and some to the machines that were hidden in the
woods. Alexei saw a distinct trail of smoke in the sky and
the grey, slowly dissolving trail of a multiple-tailed
rocket. He understood what it was: the "alert". His heart
began to thump, his nostrils quivered, and he felt a cold
thrill run down his spine, as he always felt in moments
of danger. Lenochka, the mechanic Yura and the "meteo-
rological sergeant", who had no particular job to do
amidst the feverish bustle of the airfield when the alarm
was sounded, snatched up the stretcher and ran, all three
of them, to the nearest point on the edge of the wood,
trying to keep in step and, of course, failing to do so in
their excitement.